Many good artists become great artists by learning from the techniques of the past.
During the renaissance, artists looked back to the art created by the Greek and roman
cultures for inspiration. In the same way, artists of the twentieth century looked back to
the renaissance masters for inspiration. How can someone create great art, if they first
don’t know what great art is? Many great sculptors learned there techniques as an
apprentice while others learned from research and study. In this essay I will explain how
Auguste Rodin learned techniques from Michelangelo and applied them to his sculptures.
Auguste Rodin was born in Paris. At the age of 14 he entered the Petite Ecole, a
school of decorative arts. Here Rodin learned how to combine historical themes with new
technologies and the process of mass production. Rodin found it hard to get his work
accepted. He also encountered a large emotional pain when his sister died. Because his
work was not to popular he was financially tight. His studio was said to be very cold,
because he could not afford to buy heat. Years passed and then Rodin submitted his Man
with a Broken Nose to the Paris Salon. It was rejected but later accepted under the title
Portrait of a Roman. In 1875, Rodin traveled to Italy, where the works of Michelangelo
made a strong impression on him. “Michelangelo saved me from academicism” he later
noted. Michelangelos magnificent young male aristocrats, muscular ignudi, grave
prophets, enigmatic sibylis, heroic biblical figures, and his tormented, terrified and hell-
bound sinners were to haunt Rodins imagination for the rest of his life.(Phelan) Rodins
imagination revived the nearly dead art of sculpture in the late nineteenth century and
provided inspiration for artisst of the twentieth century. The trip inspired his sculpture
The Age of Bronze, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1877. It caused a scandal
because the critics could not believe that Rodin had not used a casting of a live model in
creating such realistic a work.
Michelangelo and Rodin both understood the importance of form and how it related
to its space. Michelangelo and Rodin both expressed the ideas of Neoplatonism--a
philosophy that regards the body as a trap for a soul that longs to return to God.
Michelangelos figures appear to break from the the stone that imprisoned them. Rodin
however wanted to contain the space of his figures. In Rodins Adam he shows total
dispair and hopelessness. With the use of deep cuts in the eyes and muscle definitions, to
create dark shadows, Rodin was able to convey this feeling of dispair. Rodins harsh life
experiences willed him to create figures of such isolation and dispair. Rodin through his
technique and modeling, through the warmth of the bronze patina, had the ability to turn
metals into a palpable expression we can relate to as human beings. (Stockinger)
Rodins Adam distinctly shows Michelangelos inspiration. This figure was first
created for the Gates of Hell and was called the Shade. The Shade appeared as a variation
of Adam, in a simplified composition. The head is bent low, almost extending the
horizontal line of the shoulders, and the muscle structure is very deeply cut, while the left
arm projects forward from the body instead of falling diagonally across the torso.
However, it is not known when and how Rodin got the idea of grouping together three
identical figures. It may have been either a new application or a consequence of his
method of working through contours, a single glance being sufficient to apprehend the
figure from the front, three-quarters right and three-quarters left, at the same time. The
emphatic vertical line of the arms leads the eye not to the inscription which gave meaning
to the composition, Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate (Abandon all hope, you who
enter here), since the hands which held it were cut off, but towards the thinker, the poet
Dante, or perhaps even Rodin himself meditating over his work (Hays). Adams left arm
is pointing directly downward. The gesture created by his hand closely resembles the
gesture of Adam in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Where God is giving man a part of
himself to set us apart from the animals of the earth (a soul). The figure also looks like he
is ready to collapse. Almost like he is so burdened that he can’t even stand up on his own.
Michelangelo’s David and Rodins Adam have a similar muscle structure and
modeling. By cutting deep into the marble, Michelangelo was able to create realistic
muscle definition and emotion. Michelangelo’s David captures David as he first
encounters Goliath. Instead of showing him after he has slain Goliath, Michelangelo
chose to show him when his courage was at the highest level. When he had to stand up
and face Goliath. His right hand is out of proportion to show his strength and courage.
Both artists were able to create a flesh like quality with there respective mediums.
Both Michelangelo’s David and Rodins Adam show movement and great expression
of emotion. Rodin produced dozens of sculptures of isolated, gesturing hands. Some were
for inclusion in large works while others were designed to be expressive on their own.
Much of his work was considered controversial in his time. His figures, which were
often missing limbs or details than containing them, often seemed unfinished and
incomplete to critics. In 1910 Rodin told a writer, “Why is it allowed to isolate the head
and not portions of the body? Every part of the human body is expressive….When my
works do not consist of the complete body with four limbs ten fingers and ten toes,
people call it unfinished. What do they mean? Michelangelo’s finest works are precisely
those which are called “unfinished.”(Phelan)
In my opinion, Auguste Rodin is the greatest sculptor of the twentieth century. Not
because he created great sculptures but because he created dynamic inspirational
sculptures. Rodin used his life experiences to communicate his ideas and to use his
talents to the fullest. He never quit learning and sculpting. After studying the works of
Michelangelo he was able to apply techniques into his own creations. He began to create
a bridge from the past to the present. Connecting art of the past to the thoughts and ideas
of the modern world. “His work is an integration of the classical with the modern, almost
expressionistic”(Hays). Rodins own work reflects how much he learned from
Michelangelo, and then how he transformed the medium of sculpture into a reflection of
the artists own process of working. “My liberation from academicism was via
Michelangelo” wrote Rodin.
Hays, J. Taylor. “Rodin: His Art and Influences " AskRodin.com 12 Nov. 2000:
Retrieved Dec. 2 2002 http://askrodin.com
Himes, Sharon. “Auguste Rodin Sculpture Enters the Twentieth Century” : Philadelphia:
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.
Phelan, Joseph. "Who is Rodin's Thinker." ArtCyclopedia 12 Aug. 1997:
Retrieved Dec. 2 2002 http://www.artcyclopedia.com/feature-2001-08.html
Stockinger, Jacob. "Rodin, the people's sculptor" Capital Times 29 Dec. 2001:
Retrieved Dec. 2 2002 http://www.madison.com/captimes